MANCHESTER-by-the Sea is a little town about 30 miles north of Boston. It’s got white picket fences, a harbour, a tiny train station, two ice cream shops and an old diner called the Coffee Cup that’s recently been bought by a plucky, Italian-American mother and daughter called Christine and Kathy DeSalvo, and restored to its former glory (and then some). Christine’s brother Joey is a lobsterman with his boat at Gloucester harbour, 10 miles north, and he provides the restaurant with fresh lobster when he’s not downstairs rolling pizza dough with Christine and Kathy.
This is the town I grew up in. Like all the small towns on Cape Ann (the coastal area north of Boston), it has several beaches. But Manchester’s Singing Beach is the most exquisite: a generous stretch of cream-coloured sand arcing between two massive banks of rocks, skirted by mansions set back from the beach’s stoney incline. The Atlantic water rarely gets above 64 degrees F (17 C) and as a child I routinely plunged into 15 C water, even in mid July.
Even if Singing Beach is my eternal favourite – my home-beach – the coastal beauty of Cape Ann is breathtaking over many terrains, in all seasons, in hundreds of ways.
Crane Beach, at the end of the marshes of Ipswich, is dune-land, with long grass, puddles and pools that delight children. The white sand beach winds around for about a mile, shaping itself into pointy spits and sandbars.
The northern tip of Cape Ann at Rockport is picture-pretty, a safehaven of sailboats, motor yachts and fishing boats. It’s the reward – with the numerous ice cream and apple strudel purveyors of its craft-filled main street, Rocky Neck – for boating through the swells of the choppy sea beyond Gloucester. Tragic fishing blockbuster The Perfect Storm, starring George Clooney, was filmed in Gloucester after a real story. It’s got a big working harbour supporting many people whose lives depend on catching fish and lobsters. It’s full of Sicilians (and famous for Mafia connections); colourful and often dirty. It’s the “realest” place on Cape Ann: and quite unlike picturesque, wealthy Rockport and Manchester – to say nothing of Prides Crossing (where author John Updike lived until he died); perfectly formed Annisquam with its yacht club, and Lanesville with its 17th century houses.
With the azure sea, huge rocks, blazing heat, thunderstorms, beautiful old mansions, harbours and seafood, summer is the most magical time to visit Cape Ann. But there’s something otherwordly about the atmosphere in these parts, too: it’s as though society has been frozen in time – indeed, this is the breeding ground of Wasps.
Families hang onto houses for multiple generations, grownups who are friends from elementary school still drive in gangs to the beach – some of them estate agents, some fishermen, others gardeners. There are yacht clubs that serve sticky Bloody Marys and Sam Adams beer rather than Chateau Margaux but have 20-year waiting lists. Everybody plays tennis and, in the winter, skis.
Boston is just the capital you’d expect to reach if you got in your car and drove 45 minutes from Cape Ann. It is pristine: clean, elegant, historical, small. It features a well-groomed crop of skyscrapers at its core, housing some of the world’s most profitable companies. Bain and Boston Consulting emanate from here, as do top law firms like WilmerHale. Harvard Law School leads the city’s famous legal charge, but Suffolk, Boston University and Northeasteastern are also important law schools. Harvard and Tufts Medical Schools feed into Mass General, one of the world’s best teaching hospitals.
State Street and Downtown Crossing, the shady area between the skyscrapers, encroach onto Beacon Hill, the steeply sloping, majestic brownstone heart of Old Boston (think Henry James’s The Bostonians – and diplomats). One street over from Beacon Hill you find the Charles, Boston’s famous river, teeming with university rowers.
Back up a bit from Beacon Hill, perhaps by strolling across Boston Common and along Newbury Street with its Guccis, Pradas and Donna Karens, and you’re in Back Bay, where the city’s elite live in bay-windowed brownstones. Marlborough, Clarendon, Commonwealth Ave: these are the Champs Elysees of Boston. Walk five minutes south and you find yourself in the South End, where the gay community ensured the rise of super-hip eateries, delis and cocktail bars.
You shouldn’t miss Cambridge, with its squares full of Indian restaurants and Ivy League students. It is, of course, home of Harvard and MIT and has a unique atmosphere. Harvard, Central, Inman, Portman and Kendall Squares are all good places to get a Happy Hour deal on beer or watch an art house film for cheap.
Boston is home to so many money-makers, academics and scientists that you’ll never have to starve, culture-wise. Its Museum of Fine Arts is one of the best galleries in the country; the Aquarium always delights (the seal show in an indoor harbour pool was a highlight of my childhood). New England Conservatory and Berklee School of Music are two of the best music schools in the country, so you can catch a brilliant recital any time, or pay up and see the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Between the cultural treats of Boston, its sleek money-making infrastructure and the beautiful coastline to its north (and south), you’re unlikely to find a 50 mile stretch as rewarding and invigorating to visit. Sure, the city’s not as exciting as its Eastern Seaboard rival New York, but in my book, its neat tranquility is precisely its charm.
Zoe Strimpel flew Delta from Heathrow to Boston. There are numerous flights a day on the route, with British Airways, American Airlines and Virgin also flying.
Stylish travel | Review: Delta Business Elite
Delta is spending worthwhile cash on a new image. It has upgraded nearly all of its its Boeing 777s and 767-300s by putting flatbeds in Business. And the airline plans to refresh its stock with an order of 100-200 jets and seek options for 200 more, which could be one of the biggest spends in aviation history. Having flown code-sharers American Airlines and BA regularly between London and Boston, I am used to a relatively unpleasant transit in cattle class – and in the past, Delta wouldn’t have been much of an improvement. So it was with wide-eyed wonderment that I boarded a spanking new-looking 767-300ER for my flight to Boston. Economy looked better than anything I’ve seen for a while: super-clean, spacious, seats with pleather head-rests and in-seat TVs (unlike on AA). Business Elite, though, was a treat for all 36 of us. The seat was easy to operate into full-flat position. A power-point and spacious side-table made working easy. And the food was the best I’ve had on a flight: think sweet corn fritters, filet mignon, ice cream sundaes and fresh-baked cookies. The wine list was small but good, too, and no detail – from warmed nuts to the frequent distribution of refreshing towels – was spared. Highly recommended for this well-served route. Delta operates two flights a day from London to Boston, and one from 29 October. Economy fares from £419 return, business fares from £2,299. www.delta.com